A trip to Manali is always exciting. The drive from Mandi on wards is always fun and the mesmerizing Kullu valley has lots to offer – the apple orchards, the snow capped mountains, the people and their rituals, the river Beas and its tributaries – a package one can best experience here. This time, I spent more time around Parvati Valley and I went to the village Tosh, some 30 km from Bhuntar towards Kasol and Manikaran. I have played Holi with the village kids and took a trail full of snow till my breath became shorter enough to call it a day.
The weather turned bad while I was at Manali. A bad weather in March at such height means high chances of snowfall. Seeing snow covered mountains and valleys is one thing but experiencing snowfall is something else. How about having a bowl of hot Talumein Soup in an authentic Chinese restaurant looking at the snowfall outside when the temperature is somewhere -5? How about getting lost in a maddening crowd taking selfies, making videos, jumping and cheering as they were experiencing snowfall for the first time in their lives? How about just enjoying the moment and forgetting everything else around?
The last time I have seen snowfall was two and a half years ago. I was camping at Shilt(around 3200 meters), a hilltop inside Great Himalayan National park. I was completely exhausted after a strenuous trek of 5 hours and hardly had any energy to shake my legs. It has started after the sun set and it continued till midnight. A porter used to clean my tent at a certain interval to prevent it from collapsing from the weight of the accumulated snow.
So, Manali experience was different. I had more room to explore. I could make video calls to my friends and shared a bit of joy with them as well. I saw the traffic men going mad managing the traffic. The guy who was selling Gulab Jamun by the street had his bad day too and decided to go home early. While rest of the things were coming to a standstill, the digital space was buzzing here with status updates, video calls, sharing pictures and so on. I also had my own share as by the time I reached my guest house, I felt soreness in my throat and I had a running nose by the following day. The umbrella was kept in the car and I thought a cotton hat will be enough to keep myself protected. Even few pegs of Rum did not do any good.
A snowfall at night means you can see lots of fresh snow everywhere the following morning. The roof of the houses turns white. So as the dry branches of the apple trees. Snowflakes drop from the electric posts and the cables. The wood fencings are also coated with snow. A crow comes and sits on a tree and a bucket of snow falls from the branches. The distant pine trees look absolutely white and you can see a blue hue over it. The wind becomes unbearably cold and the temperature feels lot lesser than it actually is. A griffon vulture will disappear from your sight all of a sudden as the bright reflection from snow will make you blind. A village boy awaits for the sun to come up to take his herd of goats out for grassing as the mountain slopes are filled with snow. The guardian dog finds a warmer place to sleep few more moments. The smoke from the chimney goes up lazily as if it does not want to leave the warmth. I observed all of these while driving towards the Tosh village from Kasol, a day after the Manali experience. I felt stupid when I ran the rain wiper to clean the windshield and with an agonizing sound, the wiper told me it is not strong enough to clean the frost deposited on the windshield. I laughed when I saw the cars coming down from the hills above with a pile of snow on its tops. I kept wondering why those people choose to live in some of those isolated places on top of a hill and how do they commute each they or while in an emergency situation.
Tosh was altogether a different experience. I was lucky that the weather opened up on the day of my visit. People have faced many issues the earlier day due to bad weather and snowfall which includes leaving their car a mile away from the village. I could drive to the edge of the village and paid Rs.100 as a parking fee to a girl who must be around 12 years old. She gave me a parking receipt in return. Tosh is a place where travelers stay quite closely with the locals. So close that the smoke from the bidi lit by a local and that of the slightly modified version of a cigarette lit by a traveler get mixed before disappearing up in the sky. The smell of this mixture would remind me of smoked pork and a bottle of red wine. A BBQ here will be so much fun. The village has many guest houses to accommodate the young crowed who come here for a unique experience. The villagers welcome all and if it is on Choti Holi, they will welcome you with colors. This is what I have experienced. I played Holi with the kids and danced with the grownups in the tune of some Pahadi songs and tried to capture few moments through my lens. For some villagers, living with a herd of lamb in the same room is a natural choice to keep themselves warm during winter. While I was struggling to walk on the slippery pavements, full of water from melting snows, the local kids would hurriedly walk past me in their slippers. A young man with a bag full of potatoes and onions on his back would ask me to give him room to maintain his pace. A group of ladies would laugh from the balcony above seeing me losing my balance on the street. The old man with his flute would not get distracted by my presence. He would try a Pahadi tune which I would listen to for the next 10 minutes of my walk. As I crossed the village, the sound of the Parvati river flowing through a dam would fill my ears.
Holi Celebration in the Temple compound in Tosh:
A trail towards the waterfall and then a climb to the adjacent hill top will give you a glimpse of what one can experience on a longer trek. Even a day hike from the village is good enough to check your own stamina and at the same time experience some tranquility in the lap of the Himalayas. I hiked few more meters leaving the waterfall below me. I heard the whistle of the winds as I walked through the deodar trees. The snow was almost a foot deep. Every time I slipped, my hands went into the fresh snow and turned pink. A mountain Hawk Eagle kept me busy while I reached the top of the ridge. Looking at the village from the height of that ridge, I was thinking of coming back again with my own tent. It will be fun to spend a night away from the village. I just need to carry a packaged meal from the village. The village restaurants offer limited items. You must not expect more than Bread-Omelet, Maggi or Alu-Parantha unless you are staying in one of those guest houses where they will savor you with home cooked food. A woman walking on a slope with a gas cylinder on her back will exactly tell you how difficult life is in those remote areas. Things are surely a bit better in the summer months.
The Airtel network works fine here to the extent that I could share images from Tosh. My friend had issues with Vodafone. I am mentioning this as a critical information in public interest.
A hot water (spring) bath at Manikaran temple would have been ideal to end the trip but due to Holi the place was full with devotees and I decided to skip. I spent a couple of nights at Kasol, a place which is famous for Israelis but I saw only a few. I was told that they usually come from April onwards to spend the summer. A couple used to share a room in the guesthouse where I was staying and the guy used to lit a candle in the evening to warm his hands while we used to enjoy a bonfire. Most of the restaurants at Kasol have many items on their menu but they were serving only a few things. I guess the full menu will come into effect once April comes or the Israelis arrive, whichever is earlier. The Tuna sandwich at the German Bakery was good. So was the coconut cookies. But the place is maintained like a Garbage bakery. A tula (11 gms appx.) of Charas costs around Rs.1500-2000 in Kasol – something I didn’t taste to comment.
Few phone images:
Somewhere near Roop Nagar, Punjub
Somewhere between Kharar and Ambala, Punjab
A road between Sundernagar and Mandi.